By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It appeared as though Josh Gordon had done it. It seemed as though, despite his decade-plus of battling drug and alcohol issues, Gordon had finally found some structure that would help him on a road to recovery. At 27 years old, he was thriving professionally, and with a support system invested in his well-being, he appeared to be in the place he needed to be.
Alas, as can happen, things changed rather rapidly. On Thursday morning, just four days after taking 92 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps in a critical AFC matchup in Pittsburgh, Gordon announced that he’d be stepping away from football. Shortly thereafter, a report surfaced stating that Gordon was facing another indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy yet again.
And just like that, Josh Gordon’s positive run in 2018 ended in a flash.
While the world of sports might not be the best venue to explore human issues such as addiction, what makes the Gordon news a major disappointment is just how open and honest he’s been about his struggles. In his November 2017 interview with GQ, he was completely transparent about his drug and alcohol usage, dating back to his childhood.
“Initially it started for me, [because of] a lot of childhood and adolescent trauma-based fear. I was using in my childhood,” Gordon said in GQ. “That environment brought me into that a lot sooner than a normal — whatever normal is — kid should be brought into that, to be able to make a decision on their own of what to do. I didn’t want to feel anxiety, I didn’t want to feel fear. I didn’t plan on living to 18 [years old]. Day-to-day life, what’s gonna happen next? So you self-medicate with Xanax, with marijuana, codeine — to help numb those nerves so you can just function every day. That became the norm from middle school to high school. So by the time I got into my 20s, I was on an accelerated pace.”
In that interview, Gordon owned up to his own mistakes, like driving drunk and crashing a car into a telephone pole, or like smoking marijuana or drinking liquor prior to games, or like entering rehab solely for the sake of publicity. He was straightforward in admitting that he was an addict.
“I need to know what I am, I need to know who I am. If I’m still on the fence, if I’m still on the edge, that’s a dangerous place. And for me, I’ve had enough proof,” Gordon said in GQ. “You [can] define it how you want to define it, but, for me, the easiest way to do it is to go with what they already have. It’s addicts and alcoholics. It’s on a scale from moderate to severe. But do I fall on that spectrum? For sure.”
Gordon understood that, football being football, fans didn’t often care about the human inside the helmet and shoulder pads — a reality which made his own personal journey markedly more difficult than the average person.
“Everything is an immediate gratification process. Especially for fans. If you don’t produce, you’re fired, you’re done. It’s so hard to try to take that and then add the humanity,” Gordon said. “I came into the NFL at 20 years old. I couldn’t imagine many people doing that type of thing with success. Give guys a chance. Be patient. Allow him to see it through. If he lets you down, he lets you down. But know that’s a human being there. He’s dealing with something.”
Gordon very publicly and very openly dealt with more than most people ever have to face. While it would have been naive to believe spending a few months in Foxboro could completely turn around anyone’s life, it did seem as though he was in position to make positive progress on a daily and weekly basis. From that standpoint — that is, from the standpoint of humanity — one has to hope that Thursday’s news is merely a slight setback and not a moment of derailment.
In a completely separate sense, the news is unfortunate for the Patriots — and that’s speaking strictly about football. Gordon, despite playing in just 11 of 14 games and despite having a very limited role in the first two of those games, leads all Patriots in receiving yards. His 720 yards are nine more than Julian Edelman (who himself missed four games due to a PED suspension), 21 more than James White, 62 more than Rob Gronkowski and 252 more than Chris Hogan.
Dating back to Week 6, Gordon partook in fewer than 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps just once (Week 12 at the Jets). He took, on average, 59 snaps per game in the past nine games, with seven targets, four receptions and 71 receiving yards per week.
From a football perspective, the Patriots took a risk on Josh Gordon back in September because it was an opportunity to improve the team but also because it was an improvement that was desperately needed. With Brandin Cooks (1,082 receiving yards, seven touchdowns) and Danny Amendola (659 yards, two touchdowns) being removed from the equation, the Patriots didn’t have clear and obvious replacements to make up the production. Offseason additions like Eric Decker and Jordan Matthews didn’t work out. Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell couldn’t get healthy. Riley McCarron and Devin Lucien weren’t up to the task. Braxton Berrios got injured.
The Patriots acquired Gordon two weeks into the season because it was a good opportunity, but also because a boost to the receiving corps was badly needed.
It appeared to have been working out rather well, with the Patriots utilizing Gordon more and more each week, and with Gordon openly cherishing his time on the field with Tom Brady — the man who happened to share the neighboring locker to Gordon’s.
“It must be fate, I guess — I won’t say coincidence — but it’s great to be on the receiving end of it,” Gordon said after being on the receiving end of some historical passing milestones for Brady. “[I am] extremely humbled to come out here every Sunday and get a chance to play, let alone with Tom Brady, the greatest to ever do it. So, to be a part of history with him? I can’t really even put the words to describe what that means to me. But, it’s just great to have the opportunity.”
For the better part of three months, Gordon was living up to his word. But now, in an instant, the opportunity is gone.
And whenever a professional athlete deals with any real world, real life problem, it often invites a certain level of crass commentary, either from fans who just want production or from media members who enjoy looking down upon others. Such remarks are sure to follow now.
Yet, at least from one perspective, this most recent development in the life of Josh Gordon and those within the Patriots organization who dedicated parts of their own lives to help Gordon live his? It is, quite simply, a bummer. There’s not much else to say.